Monthly Archives: April 2013

Taste California Petition

After trying Breaker Bourbon and AImagemerican Star Vodka in our tasting room, many people promptly grab their wallets and ask for a bottle. They figure that distilleries, like wineries and breweries, can sell glasses or bottles of their products in their tasting rooms. Wrong!

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, states were given the authority to regulate the alcohol industry to prevent the same abuse of power that led to the passing of Prohibition in 1919. As a result, states created a three-tier distribution system where alcohol producers, including distilleries, can only sell their products to wholesale distributors, who in turn can only sell to retailers. Consumers can only get alcohol products from retailers except in states that have made exceptions for breweries and wineries. California is one such state–breweries and wineries are able to simultaneously be producers and retailers.

In California, distributors have lobbied to prevent distilleries from gaining the same privileges as breweries and wineries. However, these restrictions on distilleries are especially detrimental for small craft distilleries like Ascendant Spirits who could use extra revenue from selling in a tasting room to generate more products and expand. We believe that allowing distilleries to sell in their tasting rooms wouldn’t hurt distributors as they fear–consumers who would buy bottles in tasting rooms would more likely make their return purchases in their nearest retail store rather than in tasting rooms. Allowing tasting room purchases would sustain the attention of consumers and benefit distributors in the long run.

The Taste California petition, which advocates for distilleries to be able to sell products in their tasting room, is a win-win for distilleries, distributors, and retailers!

Please support Ascendant Spirits’ efforts to try to sell our products in our tasting room by signing the Taste California Petition here!

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Lessons in Vodka

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So what exactly makes vodka, well, “vodka”? By definition, it is “neutral spirit distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color”. The word Vodka comes from Russia meaning little water and was originally made there from rye grain, but vodka can virtually be made from anything that ferments including barley, grapes, milk, or, in our case, corn.  A specific vodka-making yeast is used that to convert the sugar into ethanol. This product is then distilled and the ethanol and water separate due to the different in boiling points. The alcohol must reach 190 proof to be considered a vodka during distillation, which eliminates the majority of odors and tastes. Only after this process is complete can our master distiller then add water to proof the product down to palatable levels. This is the point where we craft our vodka’s distinct flavor using a proprietary filtration technology.  The process varies slightly when we create a flavored vodka by adding fresh organic caviar limes or strawberries, but the end result is still a fantastic vodka!

caivar limes strawberries

Happy Earth Day 2013!

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Here in Santa Barbara County, Earth Day is a big deal – the city hosts a festival with an eco-marketplace, live music performances, and even guest speakers such as Bill Nye (you know, the science guy!). Several non-profit and socially conscious brand representatives educated visitors about how they can positively impact the planet every day, not just on April 22. At Ascendant Spirits, we also believe that Earth Day is every day.

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Our distillery was founded in Buellton because of its proximity to fresh and organic produce. Using local ingredients enhances the taste of our products, eliminates our need to transport items thousands of miles across the country, and ensures that our fruit is grown using sustainable farming techniques. We regularly visit Goodland Organics in Goleta and Innovative Produce in Santa Maria to speak with the farmers about each harvest and to build relationships within our local community.

From the beginning, we have strived to use technologies that reduce our impact on the planet. For example, all of our machines are powered by steam, and we could easily just dump the water down the drain once we finished one distilling run. Instead, we collect and recycle it through our boiler to create steam again for the next run. This substantially limits the amount of water we extract from this drought-prone region (actual numbers will be coming soon; we haven’t received our first utilities statement yet!). We also have found some interesting uses for some of the waste that is generated from the distillation process, which includes grains, acetone and methanol.

Pig FarmThe grains we use (corn, barley, and rye) are left behind once the ethanol evaporates during distillation process. This grain mash is not particularly useful to us, but we found someone just down the road who can’t get enough of it – a local pig farmer! Since the ethanol completely evaporates out, the mash is the perfect blend of grains for a healthy pig diet. Acetone and methanol are separate byproducts of the distillation process and if consumed they can cause blindness or even fatality. Obviously, we keep these compounds far from our end products, but these are not useless substances. Acetone is an effective cleaning solvent that we use to wash our floors. Methanol is one of the cleanest burning fuels on the market, and we have future plans to convert our forklift to be run exclusively on it. This not only reduces the effect on the atmosphere, but eliminates the amount of waste generated on premise.

Today, we raise our glasses to all of our partners who have helped us reach some of our sustainability goals and we cannot wait to find new ways to reduce our impact even more. From Ascendant Spirits – Happy Earth Day!

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Bourbon 101

Whiskey infographic

Whiskey infographic by Sean Seidell Art-Science

With bourbon’s recent surge in popularity, people are also becoming more curious about how it’s made and what makes it different from other whiskeys. As shown in the infographic above, bourbon is a type of whiskey. Whereas whiskeys are produced in many countries (Ireland, Scotland, Canada…), bourbon can only be produced in the United States. This is the result of  a congressional action in 1964 that classified bourbon as a distinctive product unique to the United States. This contrasts with the popular belief that bourbon must be made in Kentucky or even more exclusively, in Bourbon County, Kentucky.

The Federal Government also regulates the attributes used to differentiate distilled spirits. Bourbon has quite a few:

1. In order for a whiskey to be called a bourbon, its grain mixture (a.k.a. mash bill) must be at least 51% corn.

2. After this mixture is fermented, it must be distilled to no more than 160 proof.

3. After distillation, it must be proofed down to no more than 125 proof before it is put in barrels to be aged.

4. It must be aged in brand new, white american oak barrels that have been charred on the inside.

5. After being aged, it cannot be bottled at an alcohol content lower than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume).

Barrel aging develops and intensifies the taste and color of the bourbon. Under-aging can lead to harsh and hot flavors, while over-aging can lead the bourbon to be over-oaked. In bourbon country, a barrel of bourbon can be aged for as little as 3 months or as long as 30 years. However, in Buellton, where we age our Breaker Bourbon Whisky, we are able to achieve the same level of aging as a 5 to 6 year aged barrel of bourbon from Kentucky in just 2 to 3 years. This is because the aging process is highly dependent on the rate of aspiration of the barrel–basically, the barrel breathing. In the heat, the pores in the wood of the barrel will expand; the barrel will exhale. This will cause the liquid to pass through the charred layer, which acts as an ion filter, and into the pores of the wood. Here it will pick up the typical delicious flavors associated with bourbon — smoke, oak, vanilla, spice, caramel… yum. In the cold, the pores in the barrel will contract, and the liquid will move into the interior of the barrel. Buellton’s typical daily temperature fluctuations of between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit allow for a higher rate of expansion and contraction (the barrel aspirating), accelerating bourbon aging!

Goodland Organics Farm Visit


inside a caviar lime

 

Caviar Limes are these strange little citrus fruit are native to Australia, and have become a high demand item for accenting sushi dishes, gelato desserts, and, of course, hand-crafted spirits. Today, there are only four farms in the US that grow this variety of lime and Goleta’s very own Goodland Organic Farm is the only one that grows them organically. Luckily for us at Ascendant Spirits, this farm is just miles away so we can infuse our spirits with the limes the same day they were picked. 

 

caviar lime flowercaviar lime on vine

Since I never had heard of a caviar lime before Ascendant Spirits, our team decided to visit the farm for ourselves and get a closer look at how these fruit are produced at the Goodland Organic Farm. The views of this farm are breathtaking – the rows of hass avocado trees, cherimoyas, coffee, and caviar limes overlook the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day the outline of the Channel Islands can be seen. The entire farm is located in the mountains, so the caviar limes’ trees reside on the steep hillside. Spring is just the start of their growing season, so some trees are budding vibrant purple flowers while others were filled with ripe caviar limes. The fruit and flowers are guarded by sharp thorns, so pickers must wear thick gloves to protect themselves.

 

Goodland Farm

Goodland Organic is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmer (CCOF) organization, whose accredited by the USDA and meets all the standards of the National Organics Program. For this group, organic food means “produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering (GMOs),  or ionizing radiation”. In additional to verifying the crops are grown organically, this group also provides farmers with the resources to educate consumers, advocate policy, and marketing support so that these farms can compete with non-organic farms. These ethical practices make for fresh delicious fruit that we love infusing our spirits with!

{coming soon: caviar lime gin & caviar lime vodka}

 

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Blue Agave SB Industry Event

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Mixologist Jeremy Lake’s “Bourbon Blues” cocktail with crème de cassis, agave nectar, fresh muddled blueberries, and of course, Breaker Bourbon.

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Blue Agave’s “Gingerly Break” with Breaker Bourbon, lime juice, fresh cucumbers, St. Germaine, and ginger beer.

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Kyle (Director of Sales) and Steve (Master Distiller) answering questions about Breaker Bourbon

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the bar at Blue Agave in downtown Santa Barbara

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two Breaker fans enjoying the cocktails

Many Breaker fans flocked to downtown Santa Barbara Zagat-rated restaurant and bar Blue Agave for fresh bourbon cocktails Sunday evening. Blue Agave paired with Ascendant to host an industry event showcasing Breaker Bourbon in fresh springtime cocktails. Ascendant’s mixologist Jeremy Lake was serving Blue Agave’s “Gingerly Break” cocktail as well as “Bourbon Blues,” his own Breaker creation. The pairings with cucumber, ginger, crème de cassis (currant liquor), and blueberry in the two cocktails showed the bourbon’s versatility. As someone who drinks Breaker Bourbon neat, I happily downed these delicious cocktails.

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Bourbon Cures Vodka Induced Blindness

Yes, its true: Bourbon is actually the doctor recommended treatment for vodka induced blindness. In November, a NewZealand man imbibed a bit too much vodka and his body converted the overdose in methanol consumption to the toxic compound formaldehyde. The methanol raises the body’s blood acidity due to formaldehyde conversion which can damage or kill the optic nerve. Without too much scientific jargon, this type of poisoning can cause permanent blindness. Yikes!

Booze for medicinal purpose

Booze for medicinal purpose

As the man recounts, “I thought it had got dark and I’d missed out on a bit of time but it was only about half-past-three in the afternoon. I was fumbling around the bedroom for the light switch but … I’d just gone completely blind.”After a few hours of no sight, the man decided to make an appearance at the the doctor’s office where he was surprisingly treated with a IV drip filled with bourbon. WHAT? Aren’t you suppose to avoid mixing your darks with your lights, your beers from your wines? Believe me, I had the same reaction.

But here’s why it works: in the case of vodka induced blindness, bourbon is used for treatment because it actually blocks the body’s ability to metabolize the methanol. The ethanol found in bourbon is more easily broken down by the body, so it halts the metabolization of methanol. This is the most effective method to prevent this type of poisoning. Of course, there is a very low probability of this type of poisoning actually happening while your sipping martinis at happy hour. But just in case, now you know the one circumstance where you definitely should mix your poisons.

{REMEMBER: if you truly suspect that someone has methanol poisoning, DO NOT try to treat the situation at home – go to your medical provider and have the experts administer the IV of bourbon}

Sources:

Theunissen, M. “Whisky saves man’s eyesight after being blinded by vodka”. The New Zealand Herald. November 30, 2012. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10851152

First Batch of Breaker Bourbon Bottled & Distributed

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Breaker Bourbon spotted in El Rancho Market in Buellton on Thursday, March 14.

We are very proud to announce that Ascendant Spirits’ first batch of its signature Breaker Bourbon has hit restaurants, bars, and stores in 5 Southern California Counties: Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and Orange. An up-to-date list of all locations carrying Breaker Bourbon is on our website.

Word on the street is that Breaker Bourbon is flying off shelves at supermarkets. At a tasting at El Rancho Market in Solvang, one taster remarked, “I don’t like bourbon, but I like that.”

If you see Breaker Bourbon on a restaurant menu, liquor or grocery store shelf, or bar back, we’d love if you could tweet, instagram, or Facebook your picture using the hashtags #BreakerBourbon and #ASDistillery, and to @ASDistillery.

Bar Back at Dargan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant

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ADI Conference Shows Craft Distilling Building in Popularity

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Ascendant Spirits’ Rectifying Column, Gin Basket, and Condensing Column (left to right)

The American Distilling Institute‘s weeklong 10th Annual Spirits Conference and Vendor Expo in Denver, Colorado wrapped up a few days ago. Its huge attendance shows that craft distilling is hotter than ever. The American Distilling Institute has seen the number of small distilleries grow to 400 from just 70 a decade ago. Aficionados of craft spirits can attend the conference, which is spread across many Denver hotels and restaurants that showcase craft tastings and seminars.

Ascendant Spirits is part of this craft distilling revival. It proudly accepts its title as the first legal distillery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition.

Check out conference highlights here.

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